With the Academy Awards airing this Sunday, Gazette editors and contributors made a list of our favourite movies from 2016. These are the films we're rooting for in the coveted best picture category and the films we think were snubbed a nomination.
Best picture snubs
Nocturnal Animals — Tom Ford, one nomination
Justin Di Camillo
In fashion designer Tom Ford’s second foray into the art of film, Nocturnal Animals delivers a chilling tale that was largely overlooked by the Academy. Adapted from the novel Tony and Susan, the film tells the story of Susan (Amy Adams), who receives and reads a manuscript of a novel written by her ex-husband of 20 years. The content of the novel becomes its own story within the story, with the aspect of revenge haunting the pages of the both manuscript and Susan’s reality.
The film is a dark thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat and a reminder that the main reason we go to the cinema is to be entertained. Nocturnal Animals marries art and entertainment seamlessly as Ford captures the aesthetically clean and cold world surrounding Susan and the gritty one portrayed in his novel, whilst maintaining suspense throughout the film. Though Aaron Taylor-Johnson nabbed a Golden Globe Award for his disturbing portrayal as a gang leader, he failed to secure an Oscar nomination. As one of the most entertaining films of the year, it's a shame it didn't receive more nominations.
Zootopia — Byron Howard and Rich Moore, one nomination (snubbed Best Picture nom)
If you told me a year ago that one of the most compelling thrillers of 2016 would star a rabbit and fox among a cast of all anthropomorphized animals, I would have scoffed. While many point to Zootopia's strong themes as its selling point, particularly given the current global political climate, this film is more than just a morality lesson for children.
Its clever screenplay that hits all the beats of a traditional police procedural, adding entertaining twists along the way, elevates the film above a typical Disney flick. A fully realized and beautifully imagined world, fully fleshed out characters and a truly interesting story are just more ingredients to Zootopia's success. I took an originally skeptical date to see this and, surprisingly, we both walked out shocked and impressed. While some might dismiss this film as too "light," it's one of the most engaging and, yes, best of the year.
Jackie — Pablo Larrain, three nominations
The story surrounding President John F. Kennedy’s assassination has been told in pop culture dozens of times. Jackie may not have been nominated for Best Picture, but it deserves recognition as it manages to tell this well-explored story through a new lens. It achieves this by focusing on the figure that is usually the supporting character: Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman).
In the film, Jackie is depicted as a deeply cerebral legacy builder, rather than the stereotypical portrayal of a devoted and doting wife. Portman’s immersive portrayal humanizes the private first lady and introduces a new dimension to the Kennedy mythos.
Films we're rooting for
La La Land — Damien Chazelle, 14 nominations including Best Picture
For some reason I can’t quite explain, I knew I had to watch La La Land from the moment I saw the poster. My intuition proved to be right as the film is inspiring, beautiful and magical. It’s certainly unconventional when compared to the types of films created today as it’s an original musical.
The film makes you want to get up and dance from the opening number, gives you butterflies from the moment Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) lock eyes and makes you cry whether out of pure joy or heartbreak. The stunning art direction from the studio lot to the observatory reminisces the Golden Age of Hollywood and ensures the film screams nostalgia. The Academy will have gotten it wrong if the record-tying 14-Oscar nominated film doesn’t win in the major categories. It’ll be the first musical to win Best Picture since Chicago (2002) and the first original musical to win in over fifty years.
Moonlight — Barry Jenkins, eight nominations
From the moment I saw the trailer to the moment I exited the screening, I knew Moonlight was one of the best movies I had ever watched. When a film captivates and whirls you into a story about a young boy grappling with his sexuality and masculinity, it’s hard to separate art from reality. Far too many black men are entrapped by their masculinity, in fear of expressing their true selves.
Moonlight is the story of a lifetime and is sheer proof that a film, removed from the twinkles and whiteness of Hollywood, can succeed and affect others outside of the black community. This film is not only cinematically sound but also the true definition of film as an art form. From its sound editing to cinematography to writing, Moonlight's brilliance falls beyond awards — but if I had to compare its worth to something I would say it deserves as many awards as lives it represented.
Hidden Figures — Theodore Melfi, three nominations
The tension of the space race serves as a perfect backdrop to this period piece. Taraji P. Henson delivers a nail-biting performance in her role as Katharine Johnson, a black female mathematician working for NASA in 1961, Virginia. As the story unfolds, this film does an excellent job at combining the charming aesthetic of the decade with many of the social issues that still riddle us to this day. What I admire about this screenplay adaptation is its subtlety — although the racism and sexism of the time is certainly evident, it is not terribly overt.
Rather, the discrimination that Johnson and her colleagues face as both people of colour and as women manifests itself in in discrete comments, signs and actions. These women must deal with the barriers that come with being women of colour, and how preconceived notions of their gender and race often intersect and play off of each other. This film is more than a feminist movie, or a civil rights movie — it is a movie of how relatively thoughtless aggressions can impact an individual and if “that’s just the way things are,” perhaps it’s time for a change.
Manchester by the Sea — Kenneth Lonergan, six nominations
Manchester by the Sea is one of the best pictures of the year due to its incredibly realistic outlook on life. How we live now, and how we’ve always lived, is shown through this visual masterpiece. Life is not always cheerful — it can hit really low sometimes and the film reflects this suffering. The central character, Lee (Casey Affleck), appeals to your emotions and forces you to sympathize and connect with him, even if you haven’t experienced deep loss yourself.
That said, there are many lighthearted moments that serve to illustrate life’s randomness and uncertainty. The film is so realistic that there isn’t a typical ending or closure to the story. Although it’s certainly somber, the film should be lauded as a work of art for its ability to imitate real life.
Lion — Garth Davis, six nominations
Based on a true story, Lion captivates its audience with raw emotion that is rarely felt through a two-dimensional screen. Spanning a story time of 25 years, the film takes us on a journey into the life of Saroo, a lost Indian boy who is adopted by an Australia family. The young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is one of the most adorable child actors I've ever seen grace a screen. His screams and tears break your heart, while his laugh melts it. Although set in two seemingly different nations, India and Australia, the film beautifully depicts the wondrous landscapes of both countries and demonstrates the interconnectedness of the world we live in. Lion shows the tragedies and beauties of life and is a film that deserves recognition at the largest award show in the world.
Fences — Denzel Washington, four nominations
One of the best things about theatre as a medium is the intimate connection between audience and performers — Fences manages to capture this spirit on-screen. Adapted from August Wilson's play, the film's language is beautiful with Shakespearian monologues dominating the narrative. Fences does not present a groundbreaking story but rather, illuminates the life of an everyday garbage man and his family as he hits them with a shocking revelation.
The two leads, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, deliver towering performances with enough emotional energy to hit you in the gut. Davis, in particular, sells every note of her performance and I could hear people in the audience cheering her on during her key scene. The theatre so often produces visceral emotional reactions from its patrons, but Fences is able to do so without a stage or theatre lights.
The Academy Awards air Sunday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m.